Marketing vs. Privacy

I’ve never seen my father use an ATM card or credit card. Until a few years ago, I wasn’t even certain he had a checking account. He is the only person I know who carries $50 bills. And after reading the New York Times‘ article How Companies Learn Your Secrets, I can almost understand why my dad pays for most things with cash. He’s a big fan of Orwell’s 1984 and he’s concerned about privacy. He doesn’t shop online or use the Internet.

Meanwhile I used my ATM card for a $3 tall chai this afternoon and have made several online purchases in the last few days. I work for an Internet retailer… so the apple does fall far from the tree in this case. Judging by the NYT article, Target probably can most likely predict what brand of shampoo, toothpaste and face cleanser I will buy, along a random assortment of household goods, when I visit the store next. These are not secrets though, these are my purchasing habits.

A lot of companies invest energy, time, and financial resources in attempt to predict what customers will buy, then market those products to that customer. If it works, it can draw a customer in for years and thousands of dollars. If it doesn’t, the move risks offending customers and potentially losing the customer for good. The financial risk is high. So Target figured out a way to predict which female customers were pregnant, but realized the company could offend women if they marketed only pregnancy and baby items. A little randomization in the advertisements feels less sneaky, they discovered. This is legal, but still a bit creepy. Is anyone really shocked that companies like Target (and probably a lot of other places I shop at) track customers’ purchases, when given the opportunity and technology to do so? Doesn’t it make really, really good marketing sense? The creepy factor is still there, though.

The marketing story about Febreeze and how habits and cues related to brain activity were interesting side notes. The Febreeze marketing saga reminded me of my college days, when I was frequently spraying Febreeze on my black pea coat to get rid of the cigarette smell after a night out (the state I lived in permitted smoking in bars in the early 2000s, and I was too cheap to get my coat dry cleaned on a regular basis).

I’m part of the generation that grew up with video cameras and reality TV. My cohorts were early adopters of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. My generation wants to share with their friends and the world at large. In the 18-30 age group, oversharing is rampant in my humble opinion. And knowingly posting personal information is one thing. I’m not sure how I feel about a company tracking a woman’s purchases over time and then trying to identify if that woman is pregnant. I suppose the way around this is to pay in cash.


Guest Post on Brazen Careerist

On Friday, my guest post was published on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist. I read about it in the dentist’s office, waiting for a cleaning at 7 AM. I’m not a morning person, but I booked the earliest appointment I could get, because I wouldn’t have to take unpaid time off from my job.

I’ve read Penelope’s blog for more than a year, and I like that she is direct. She writes about things that are relevant, and provocative. And I enjoy the posts about farm life, since it’s something I relate to, after growing up in a small rural town in the Midwest.

The guest post illustrated three things for me:

1. The power of Twitter.

2. Ideas, not a long resume with years of experience, are what matter to my generation. This is essentially what Brazen Careerist is about. Your ideas are your resume. If you have a good idea, despite having only a few years of experience, you can still make a positive contribution — to your company, your family, your friends, your community, etc. The guest post was a good idea from an unknown 20-something.

2. Writers need thick skins. I hadn’t written for an audience larger than 10 people since 2006, when I graduated from college. When I wrote the guest post, I wanted to write well, since it would be seen by presumably thousands of people. I thought about being clear and concise. I didn’t consider if the comments would be positive or negative. They were mostly positive.

And really, it doesn’t matter what the comments were. I was interested to read from other people who had worked as temporary employees, or became consultants, or considered internships or temp jobs, because they weren’t satisfied with their stable, full-time jobs. My generation changes job every two years. We are willing to take calculated risks. If we’re not happy, we will look elsewhere for better opportunities. We’ll take initiative — and that might mean taking a different job, and maybe for less money, if we enjoy the work more.

I was just excited to write, and to have this opportunity from a blogger than I respect. Writing has been a hobby of mine since I was eight years old, writing short stories in pencil on wide-rule notebook paper for my third grade teacher, Mrs. Koehn. I started a blog as a creative outlet, and I was flattered to write for a larger audience.

Thank you, Penelope, for running my guest post.

On a related note, my contract was extended. I’ll be temporary employed through Christmas, and hopefully in 2011.